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Marijuana legalization advocates organize to put new measure on California ballot

March 18, 2011 | 12:34 pm

The campaign behind a failed initiative to legalize marijuana in California announced Friday it had formed a new committee to put another measure on the ballot.

The Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform 2012 aims to build on the unusual support that coalesced around Proposition 19, which would have allowed adults to grow and possess marijuana and authorized cities and counties to legalize and tax sales.

That campaign drew backing from the California NAACP and the Latino Voters League, which saw it as a way to end disproportionate arrests of African Americans and Latinos for marijuana crimes. Labor leaders in the Bay Area also got behind it, bringing endorsements from some major unions, which saw a legal pot industry as a potential source of union jobs.

The committee announced Friday included Alice Huffman, who heads the California NAACP; Antonio Gonzalez, who formed the Latino Voters League; and Dan Rush, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union official who worked during the campaign to build labor support. It also includes several key players behind Proposition 19, including Dale Sky Jones, who was the campaign's spokeswoman and will be the chairwoman of the new coalition.

"The purpose of our organization is to learn from our experiences in 2010 and take the lead toward victory in 2012," Jones wrote to supporters in an e-mail sent Friday. "We will expand our coalition, raise the necessary funds to move toward a possible 2012 campaign, and conduct polling and other opinion research that will guide the drafting of a new initiative."

Proposition 19 lost 46%-54% in November, but it drew worldwide media attention and stimulated a vigorous debate over the nation's drug policies. Polls have shown growing support for marijuana legalization nationwide, and a post-election poll in California suggested the measure might have passed if proponents had had the money for a campaign to reach swing voters.

Many activists are convinced that, with more money and broader support, a similar initiative could pass during a presidential election year when the turnout tends to be more liberal. The coalition includes several representatives who will be critical to raising money, including Stephen Gutwillig, the California director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which has close ties to the major donors who have supported past medical-marijuana and legalization initiatives.

Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act, was the brainchild of Richard Lee, an Oakland medical-marijuana entrepreneur who led the effort to draft it, paid for a signature-gathering effort to qualify it and footed the bill for most of the campaign. He and Jeff Jones, an Oakland activist who co-sponsored the measure, are on the coalition's board.

Lee's singular role in the campaign led some drug-policy-reform activists to keep their distance initially, but as the initiative sparked a nationwide conversation, they decided to embrace it. Although still involved, Lee has stayed behind the scenes as the new effort gets underway.

The Proposition 19 campaign struggled to win support among medical-marijuana activists, growers and dispensary owners, many of whom worried it would disrupt their lucrative business. Marijuana legalization activists held a conference in Berkeley recently to reach out to medical-marijuana activists and will host a second one Saturday in Los Angeles.

The new campaign plans to hold a series of meetings to draft a new initiative and expects to launch a new website soon. "What many thought was an unlikely dream in 2010 is poised to become reality in 2012," Jones wrote to supporters of the previous initiative. "We will need your ideas, your passion and your support going forward."

Members of the new organization are:

Executive director: Mauricio Garzon, Proposition 19 campaign manager

Board of directors: Tom Angell, media director, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; Graham Boyd (honorary), visiting fellow, Stanford Criminal Justice Center; David Bronner, president, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps; Antonio Gonzalez, president, William C. Velasquez Institute; Stephen Gutwillig (honorary), California director, Drug Policy Alliance; Alice Huffman, president, California NAACP; Dale Sky Jones, Proposition 19 spokeswoman; Jeff Jones, Proposition 19 proponent; Richard Lee, Proposition 19 proponent; Jim O'Neill, managing director, Clarium Capital Management; Perry Rosenstein, consultant, Trilogy Interactive; Dan Rush, special operations director, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.

Key advisers:

Doug Linney, president, the Next Generation; Chris Lehane, Fabiani and Lehane; Dan Newman, partner, SCN Strategies; Dave Fratello, Coast Campaign Group; Marjan Philhour, fundraising consultant, California Group; Anna Greenberg, pollster, Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research; Ruth Bernstein, principal, EMC Research; Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director, Drug Policy Alliance.


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Photo: A worker shows a marijuana bud for sale at a dispensary. Credit: Ed Andrieski / Associated Press